Claim:   Internet puzzler challenges readers to find an “impossible” error.

Examples:

[Collected via e-mail, October 2007]

Needless to say, I can’t find the error and it’s driving me BONKERS! Anyone know?

find the error, its impossible

000
111
222
333
444
555
666
777
888
999

Did you know that 80% of UCSD students could not find the error above?

[Collected via e-mail, January 2011]

THIS DROVE ME CRAZY!! Even more than I already AM! Smile!!

Find the error, its impossible

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Did you know that 80% of UCDS students could not find the error above?

Forward this to at least 5 people with the title ‘Find the error, its impossible’, and when you click ‘Send’, the answer will be right in front of your eyes!

Origins:   The magician’s trade often depends on misdirection — diverting the audience’s attention to something inconsequential in order to keep them from focusing on something more significant (and revealing). This little “Find the error!” puzzler, which has been bedeviling Internet users for several years now, works on the same principle.

The list of numbers included in the body of the message is what most readers focus on in trying to determine where the supposed error might lie, but they come

away stumped at finding no gaps, inversions, or other irregularities in the number sequence. That’s because the list is a red herring, intended to divert attention away from the real error.

Where is the “real error”? It’s in a place where most readers are unlikely to look for it — in the instructions directing them to find it. The statement “Find the error, its impossible” itself houses the error, which deal with punctuation: the word “its” as used here is a contraction for the phrase “it is” (rather than a possessive) and should therefore include an apostrophe (i.e., “it’s”). Alternatively, one could seize on another punctuation mistake (i.e., a comma splice) in the same instructions: “Find the error” and “its impossible” are independent clauses not joined by a conjunction, so they should be presented as either two separate sentences each followed by a period, or as a single unit connected by a semicolon.

Finally, one could claim that the statement “Find the error, its impossible” is itself an error even when punctuated correctly, as the accompanying text also states that 80% of UCSD (or UCDS) students “could not find the error.” The logical inference is that the other 20% of students did in fact spot the error, which means finding the solution must be somewhat less than “impossible.”

Last updated:   22 February 2011